Ready or Not

Naylah Ahmed

Kali Theatre Company

The Drum, Plymouth

From 16 May 2017 to 20 May 2017

Review by Karen Bussell

Disconnect, deprive, dishonour. Indeed.

We always expect thought-provoking stuff from Kali Theatre Company, which promotes the writings of women of South Asian descent and Naylah Ahmed’s Ready or Not is exactly that.

Middle-aged, middle class, middle-of the-road retired primary teacher Pat has been radicalised. Not into the arms of Islam but into taking action against all things Muslim.

Joan Blackham is convincingly downbeat and dogged as the rapidly unravelling divorcee disconnected from reality, shrivelled by grief and guilt, and desperate for revenge.

A chequered history is unpacked through voice-over readings (by Ryan Early) of her trophy soldier son’s letters from the frontline, online chatter and video (spewed across the bland backdrop), TV bulletins, newspaper cuttings and chat with her allergy and asthma-ridden captive.

Depriving chirpy Yusuf (Adam Karim) of his liberty purely by dint of the colour of his skin and religious dress—poor lad had started wearing the thobe and taqiyah just five days previously—her dishonour soon competes with the stuff of Jack’s confessions. Everyday domestic items—oxtail soup, scarf and cricket bat—are employed as instruments of torture amongst the easy chairs and chintzy rugs of suburbia with waterboarding in dishwater particularly chilling in its ordinariness.

A difficult, intense and very wordy two-handed first act rampages through ideas of motherhood (Pat regularly hid in the loft having pulled up the ladder), religious servitude, hell (that infernal eternal barbecue awaiting the wicked) and just who is "our own" when keeping score on the battlefield?

If runt of the litter, constantly-fainting hugely eloquent Yusuf is just "a turban away from Bin Laden" purely because he is "not quite British enough" and has similar looks to that "bunch of loonies with swords", what does it make pitiful and poisonous white pillar of the community Pat who may be able to accept cultural blending in the form of chicken tikka pizza but not halal pie and mash (or banoffee come to that)?

The answer comes in the second act with Jack’s common-law wife Holly (Natasha Rickman) divulging certain shortcomings and historical events charting family disconnect and dishonour, questioning the motives and results of deprivation with Pat refusing to make empty gestures on this, a particularly notable day.

With personal battles juxtapositioned with global warfare and the single snowflake lost in a blizzard of blank-faced death at the hands of media-dubbed bogeymen, there is much to resonate with the world according to frenzied xenophobic press.

If Holly represents the moral high ground, willing to sacrifice precious memory to do what is right, then pipe-wielding Yusuf’s escape from the cellar takes the low road, not to redemption but to revenge with fake news the ultimate winner.

An interesting concept tackling worthy issues engaging the mind if not the heart.